Thursday, 20 September 2018

WW2 Coastal Defences, Branscombe, Devon

Adjacent to the sea, and half way up a fairly steep cliff path, sits one of the two pillboxes still remaining in Branscombe. Unfortunately, I couldn't locate the other one, therefore it may either have been demolished, or the Defence of Britain Data-base sighting was incorrectly placed. I found this type difficult to place as it doesn't seem to fit the main types. It may either be a variant or some of the embrasures have been bricked up or just hidden by the banked earth. The nearest in shape is a Type 23, but it doesn't have the open-air gun position at one end.

The building on top of the hill behind the pillbox was once a row of coastguard cottages, later on an hotel, and now a private residence.

I did hear that WW2 signage can still be seen inside this emplacement. Unfortunately the field was full of cattle and I was reluctant to scramble over the fence to find out...especially as one of the cows appeared to be guarding the entrance! Not that I'm afraid of cows, but I was brought up in a farming community so I know from experience how inquisitive they can be, and I didn't fancy a group hug with me in the middle, lol.

According to the Defence of Britain Database there is a short section left of some Anti-tank blocks. I went to the spot indicated on Google earth and found these Tetrahedron, which with their truncated or fully pointed pyramid shape are also known as 'Dragon's Teeth'. As the name suggests, they were strung across the beach to prevent tanks from invading inland after disembarking from boats. 

I was really excited about this as I'd never seen any for myself before. Still used as barriers, the ones above are directly on the sea front to prevent anyone from driving any further. There are also more in the car park itself too, such as those below.

And a final look back from inland across the valley and towards the sea. Not very easy to see, but the building to the right of centre is the erstwhile coastguard cottages with the pillbox situated just below.


Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Maiden Castle, Nr Dorchester, Dorset

This is one of the largest and most complex Iron Age hillforts in Europe, and certainly the largest in Britain. Comprising multiple ramparts, the area inside would have protected several hundred people.

The earliest evidence of activity consisted of a Neolithic causeway enclosure and bank barrow. During the Bronze age, around 1800 BC, it was an agricultural site. Castle is an Old English word for camp or encampment, not to be confused with the Mediaeval strongholds built in stone, and it was this encampment that was built around 600 BC. It was pretty much like any other hill fort in Britain, until circa 450 BC when major expansion occurred. The enclosed area was almost tripled in size, and the defences made more complex with additional ramparts and ditches.

The entrance on the North-West side is brilliant to walk through as it shows the extent and complexity of the defences.

The sheep must love it too as there were a lot of them dotted about grazing on the slopes. 

Subsequent excavations produced an extensive cemetery, revealing evidence of death during battle. This was thought to be during an attack at the time of the Roman invasion, and the remains of a Roman temple bears out the fact that the invaders had clearly gained access and taken control of the site.

The remains of the Roman temple below.

This was my second visit to Maiden Castle. The first time was with an A-Level Archaeology class in 1996, along with visits to Maumbury Rings and the Roman Town House as seen in my last post. On that visit we didn't walk around the perimeter but stood shivering while listening to a lecture from a visiting professor on a cold, windy and drizzly day.

This visit was made on 26th of September 2008, just a week off ten years ago to the day. Although at the end of a long day spent visiting other prehistoric sites it was such a lovely, relaxing stroll along the embankments on a warm and sunny late afternoon. Altogether a different experience!

 My favourite photo of the day, below, was taken when walking back around the perimeter towards the setting sun in the west and just before the extensive ramparts on the southern side.

And looking back at the ramparts, below.

Maumbury Rings & Roman Town House, Dorchester, Dorset

Having visited these sites back in 1996 with an A-level Archaeology class that I was taking, I only have a few photos from each one, therefore I included both on the website article. I didn't make a lot of my opportunity at the time; I recall being freezing cold because I was without a jacket, and rather unwell due to an exceptionally bad hangover! I meant to visit again and create two articles, but was unable to, so they'll also stay together for the blog too.

However the two places work well together as, although Maumbury Rings began life as a Neolithic site, it was later altered and used by the Romans as an amphitheatre for performance and gladiatorial sports. A Neolithic Henge consisting of a large, circular earthwork with a single bank and inside ditch, with one entrance at the north east end. The ditch was made by a continuous line of deep shafts, in which were found fragments of human and deer skulls.

During Roman occupation, when the nearby Maiden Castle had been captured, the settlement at Dorchester became the Roman town of Durnovaria in AD70; the henge subsequently adapted as an amphitheatre for its citizens. An inner enclosure was added in the south west, thought to be for the performers, and the inside was lowered.

Other uses have been made of it since. In Mediaeval times the entertainment consisted of bear-baiting. During the Civil War it was used as an artillery fort to guard the southern approach to Dorchester, modified to contain a large ramp opposite the entrance. In the late 17th and early 18th centuries it was again used for the public, but for a far grislier reason...public executions. Eighty of the Monmouth Rebels were ordered to be executed here by Judge Jeffries in 1685 and other, more prosaic criminals were hanged or burned at the stake.

Now a public space, it is used once again for entertainment - but of a much gentler nature than it's previous incarnations - where open-air concerts, festivals and re-enactments can be enjoyed here throughout the year.

Next stop was the Roman Town House via a look at several other interesting remains around the town. The photo above shows the remains of the Roman town wall with an infill of rubble seen from the inner, unimportant side. This is how the Roman military built their permanent forts; the outer side with pointed brickwork, the other left rough with no facing. I should imagine that the outer, smoother, surface gave more protection with less hand or foot holds, whereas the rough inner surface meant no unnecessary materials and labour.

Discovered in the 1930s, the Town House is a Grade I listed building and scheduled monument, being the only building of its kind remaining in Britain. Situated in Colliton Park, excavations revealed several mosaic floors, a bathroom and a covered verandah. I recall seeing the underfloor remains of a hypocaust, which is in the top left corner in the above photo, but sadly I don't have any photos of it. Some of the mosaics are now in the Dorchester Museum, but there was one covered by a lean-to construction to keep it safe from the elements, which could be viewed through glass. The cover can be seen in the photo below but sadly no close-ups of it or its contents. There is now a more extensive glass-sided building covering more of the excavated floor.

The walls seen are mostly concrete with irregular stone facing, which the Romans called opus incertum. There is, however, a short wall of opus spicatum; small bricks laid on their sides in an attractive herringbone pattern, which can just about be seen to the left of the column in the photo above. And below, it can be seen just above and to the left of the well. 

And finally, although I don't have a photo of it, we walked along a high embankment which was part of the town defensive earthworks. I did take a photo from the top though, below, which shows how high it is.

Friday, 31 August 2018

Willoughby House, Seaton, Devon

I was riding past on a bus in March 2009 when I noticed a broken window pane in the side of this house, and it appeared to be abandoned and derelict, so I decided to go back to investigate and take some photos. I had another walk past a few days later and saw someone clearing out the building. We had a chat and he told me that the elderly lady who lived there had left to live in a care home...which is always rather sad, I think...and the house was subsequently put on the market.

It's a delightful Edwardian building with several interesting details. What's interesting is that the nearby Manor House was once owned by a family called Willoughby, who were earlier Lords of the Manor (see last post). That was some hundred years or so earlier than when this house was built, and I don't think there's any connection because the Willoughby name died out when the last heiress married. It is a rather nice coincidence though.

Controversy occurred when the Town Council decided to buy it for their meetings. A petition against it was formed, and a meeting in the Town hall was arranged to protest about the debt that would encrue for the town. During that meeting the seller's agent withdrew the purchase to the Council because of the bad feeling. The building has since been restored and is now owned by a private company for it's offices.

There wasn't any access inside, but I managed to take a couple of interior shots through the windows where I could. The one below is of the hall through the main front door window.

There's another door on the right hand side with a lovely veranda style porch.

And the photo taken through this door of a downstairs living or dining room.

On one side of the house there's a lane which leads to a dead end. 

A very high wall prevented me from looking over into the garden, which I really wanted to see. There were some interesting bits and pieces to take photos of though, including an old and broken cast iron pipe, below.

Someone on the forum Derelict Places, that I belong to, told me that the switch in the photo below is a 'fireman's switch', which is unusual on a residential building. Next to it is a label with the words 'B.P. sign' on. I googled that, but the only nearest match was for vintage enamel British Petroleum signs. So, I've got absolutely no idea what that was for.

Lovely peely paint on the shutter. This was on the side of a lean to extending from that side of the house. It looks like the kind of wall door that deliveries are made to but it's too high for a coal cellar hatch. Another little mystery!

The road on the other side of the house is elevated. The rear view of the house is screened off by a thick hedge unfortunately, but I managed to squeeze through, lol! 

I was expecting to see an overgrown but delightful secret garden but I was sadly disappointed as the enclosed back garden was mostly full of brambles with a partially cleared space nearer to the house.

Altogether a pleasant little mooch though. I haven't had a proper look again since it was sold on but I suspect that restoration meant losing some of the interesting old bits, so it's always nice to see and record them before they disappear.